South African projects advance literacy and basic education

By Mary Jo Jean-Francois, Area of Focus Manager for Basic Education & Literacy

There is absolutely nothing that makes my job better than visiting Rotarian projects and seeing the faces of children light up because of one simple thing: they are learning. Who am I and what incredible job do I have, you ask?

My name is Mary Jo Jean-Francois and I am the Area of Focus Manager for Basic Education & Literacy here at Rotary. A relatively new team, we are very excited to work with Rotarians throughout the world. In November, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa and evaluate two global grant projects from the Future Vision Pilot and report back to the Future Vision Committee on these initiatives. Both projects focused on early childhood education with strong teacher training components. Although the long-term results of these projects are still to be understood, the quality of the teachers’ instruction and the interest they receive from their students already speak volumes to the value of such projects and the commitment of the participating Rotarians.

Teacher Maria works with three year olds on developing fine motor skills.
Teacher Maria works with three year olds on developing fine motor skills. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Jean-Francois.

I first visited a rural community just outside of Rustenberg, South Africa. Early childhood education teachers there were passionate about their work but had identified a need for training on how to interact more effectively with their students in the classroom. By the time of my visit, these teachers had received training through two Vocational Training Teams—one  that sent a group of South African teachers to the U.S. and another that sent teachers from the U.S. to observe and train the South African teachers. They found this experience to be invaluable. Not only did I hear them praise the training they received in curriculum development and teaching methodologies, but I saw them make great use of their classroom space and apply positive discipline techniques. Most importantly, it gave the teachers the confidence that they needed to effectively run their classrooms and meet the needs of their students.

Students identify sounds to build words. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Jean-Francois,
Students identify sounds to build words. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Jean-Francois,

The second project I visited was based in and around Pretoria. This project implemented a methodology called “Souns,” which has both material and strong teacher training components. Souns provides early childhood educators and parents with tools to help children build early literacy skills.  Instead of the traditional focus on the names of letters, Souns works with children to identify the sounds of letters and eventually build words by using sounds. Teachers receive a bagged set containing 52 non-toxic plastic letters to use in their classrooms and are encouraged to spend just a few minutes a day working with students on Souns, either in small groups or individually. I was incredibly impressed with the program and felt the contagious energy of the students when they saw the bag of sounds brought out by their teachers. As a result of this project, students were building words at young ages and parents reported better communication with teachers. An added bonus was seeing the Rotarians from the Pretoria East Rotary Club in the classroom with the students.

Teachers from South Africa who were trained during project. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Jean-Francois.
Teachers from South Africa who were trained during project. Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Jean-Francois.

My 16 days in South Africa were a great reminder of the phenomenal work Rotarians are doing in the field. Seeing children excited to be at school and loving to learn is undoubtedly the best part of my job.  Knowing that committed Rotarians are behind these initiatives only makes my work better.

(A special thanks to Rotarians Andre Brandmuller, Murray Thomas, Robin Jones, Brenda Erickson and the Rotary Clubs of Pretoria East and Middleburg for their hospitality!)

“Thank you” from ShelterBox

By Melissa Martins Casagrande, ShelterBox International Partnerships Manager

It has been another busy twelve months for us at ShelterBox. Thanks to generous donations and assistance of supporters worldwide, we have been able to send aid to help displaced families in nearly 20 different countries, responding to 30 disasters such as typhoons, cyclones, hurricanes, fires, flooding, earthquakes and conflict. Together we have helped bring shelter and other vital aid to nearly 13,000 families this year.

One of our biggest challenges in 2013 was ShelterBox’s response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Rotarians have supported ShelterBox Response Teams with logistics, transportation, translation, identification of local implementing partners and ensuring the impartial distribution of aid.

Another highlight of our ShelterBox-Rotary partnership was the joint work of ShelterBox and Rotarians in China bringing aid into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) to help vulnerable communities displaced by Typhoon Bolaven.

Rotarians also worked with ShelterBox to assess needs and distribute aid in the aftermath of various disasters — from fires in Australia to floods in Uganda to the devastating tornado that hit Oklahoma, USA.

ShelterBox responded to four disasters in the Philippines working alongside Rotarians in each occasion to help families affected by Typhoon Bopha in Mindanao, set up an evacuation camp after conflict erupted in Zamboanga City, respond to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol, and help families affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Rotarians around the world mobilised to support the response in the Philippines by volunteering as response team members and raising funds.

We would like to express our gratitude to Rotarians around the world for their continued and generous support, especially to our Typhoon Haiyan Emergency Appeal and our on-going Syria Refugee Appeal.


Read the Rotary-ShelterBox Fact Sheet for more information about our project partnership.

Significant Achievement Award recognizes outstanding community service projects

By Zuhal Sharp, Awards Coordinator, RI Programs

Part of Rotary’s success and global impact is due to its emphasis on local participation and input. Rather than trying to solve a problem from an ocean away, Rotary empowers local communities to take ownership of the issue and solve it on their own.

Rotarians understand that service begins at home. Our Rotary family excels at identifying local challenges and finding ways to address them. In 1991, Rotary introduced the Significant Achievement Award to honor outstanding service projects carried out by clubs in their communities. Last year 145 clubs from 40 countries received the Significant Achievement Award in recognition of exemplary community service efforts. Among the recipients were clubs large and small, and the projects they undertook were even more varied and ambitious. What they all had in common, however, was that they addressed a significant problem in their local community, involved most or all of their club membership, and that the selected projects were commensurate with the size and the resources of their club.

Below are just three examples of the 145 winning projects:

Marvin Park Primary School students reading books provided by the Rotary Club of Helderberg Sunrise.
Marvin Park Primary School students reading books provided by the Rotary Club of Helderberg Sunrise.

Literacy for All
In order to address child illiteracy in the community of Helderberg, South Africa, the Rotary Club of Helderberg Sunrise initiated the “Literacy for All” project in 2010. By involving the majority of their membership, they were able to undertake an ambitious fundraising campaign both domestically and abroad. The funds were used to train teachers and to provide books in eleven official languages for children in ages 6-8. The club also applied for and received two Matching Grants from the Rotary Foundation. Within three years the project helped more than 5,000 children learn how to read and write in their native languages. The project even inspired other South African Rotary clubs to carry out similar projects in their own communities.

Sedro-Woolley Skate Park grand opening on October 13, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Rock.
Sedro-Woolley Skate Park grand opening on October 13, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Rock.

Sedro-Woolley Skate Park
To help provide safe recreation space for youth, the Rotary Club of Sedro Woolley, Washington, USA, led the construction of a local skate park. The club members first met with youth in the community and made sure to involve them in the planning phase of the project. The first planning meeting took place in December 2011 and construction began in July 2012, funded with the support of local businesses, foundations, and individual donors. The skate park was opened to the public in October 2013.

Doug Wood, a police chief who served as the club president from 2012-13, says that local youth long complained that there was nothing fun to do in the community. Now that the skate park’s popularity is climbing steadily and receiving visitors even from out of state, “youth can no longer say that there is nothing to do in Sedro-Woolley.”

Watch a video about this project.

Garden of Senses
While the outdoor space of an elder care facility, in Bjerringbro, Denmark, was big enough for 25 residents, it was not providing a comfortable environment for residents suffering from dementia. Inspired by scientific research, the Rotary Club of Bjerringbro decided to create a “Garden of Senses” in May 2012. The garden was designed to include fragrant bushes, perennial flowers, fruit trees, and some cultural elements that would create a better and more soothing outdoor experience for the residents. Club members divided into eight different teams and were assigned various tasks such as arranging water sections, terraces, and paths, fencing, soil improvement, and planting. In total, the club contributed 525 volunteer hours to complete the project.

See a complete list of Significant Achievement Award recipients by district.

We’re currently accepting Significant Achievement Award nominations from district governors for the 2013-14 award. If your club conducted an impactful community service project during the 2013-14 Rotary year, contact your district governor to be considered for this award. District governors may select one outstanding project from their district and submit their nominations to by 15 March. Eligibility requirements and procedures can be found in the nomination form.

Rotary offers various resources for planning effective service projects as well as various platforms to find partners, volunteers, and funds:

Rotary Fellowship combines service with a passion for the sea

Photo courtesy of Steven Ochieng
Photo courtesy of Steven Ochieng

By Rotary Programs staff

To many people, the word “yachting” connotes a lifestyle of wealth that would seem at odds with the guiding principles of Rotary. But the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians (IYFR) is more closely associated with humanitarian service that emphasizes the sea than it is to exclusivity and privilege.

For example, in the aftermath of the devastating November Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the fellowship not only raised over $61,800 for those affected by the tragedy but also transported emergency relief supplies and medicines from international sources to areas reachable only by boats with experienced navigators.

And in October, with assistance from Rotary District 2201 (Spain) and numerous clubs, IYFR members helped train and empower fishermen on Lake Turkana in Kenya. The project aims to serve as an economic catalyst for the region and as a way to improve the nutrition of local families.

Whether taking action in a humanitarian crisis or introducing the sea to young mariners or participating in a global expedition to raise funds for the End Polio Now campaign, IYFR members demonstrate that while they are passionate mariners, they are also Rotarians, committed to serve those in need.

Go to IYFR’s website to check out the impressive photos — taken by IFYR members Fernando Aguirre, Steven Ochieng, and Ezquiel Romarione — of scenes around Lake Turkana.

Learn more about Rotary Fellowships.

Project Fairs foster international partnerships and lifelong friendships

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

Rotarian Julie Leverenz, president of the Rotary Club of Hannibal, Missouri, USA, District 6060, attended the ninth annual West Africa Project Fair 16-23 October 2013 in Lomé, Togo. With support from the Reach Out to Africa Committee, Rotarians from West African nations host this annual event to foster international partnerships, promote local service projects that need assistance, and build lifelong friendships among Rotary family members around the world. In addition to building project partnerships, fair attendees also attended workshops and panel discussions and had the opportunity to volunteer with local service projects and administer polio vaccinations. Take a look at Julie’s Rotary experience in Togo:

Photographs courtesy of Julie Leverenz.

Using Rotary’s principles to address moral issues


By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

Imagine you’re a professor and have a highly motivated student who must hold down a job in order to afford college. Lately, the job has begun to interfere with the student’s performance: He hasn’t submitted several assignments and is now failing your course. If he doesn’t pass, he will lose his scholarship, which he must have in order to remain in school. What do you do?

Post a comment or add your response to the discussion in our official Rotary International LinkedIn Group.

Happy holidays from Rotary Service Connections

By: the Rotary Service Connections team, RI Programs staff

The holiday season reminds us to take time and enjoy our loved ones while extending a warm smile and helping hand to neighbors with fewer resources. In addition to undertaking countless projects throughout the year, many clubs and districts organize special activities to help spread holiday cheer. From hosting food drives to serving hot meals to purchasing presents off a wish list, our Rotary family brightens this season:

  • PackagesonWheelsThe Rotary Club of Amman Petra, Jordan, and the Rotaract Club of Amman West, Jordan, worked together on Packages on Wheels, a service project through which 360 packages of food were distributed to low-income families throughout the month of Ramadan (July to August 2013).
  • SantaPhilippinesSince 2007, the Rotary Club of Metro Roxas, Philippines, partners annually with Smiles, a local non-profit organization, to send Santa Claus on visits to local hospitals, malls, schools, and public events and distribute books, toys, and school materials to families experiencing financial hardships. Read more about this project.

If your club is still looking for a project to support this holiday season, visit, our crowdsourcing tool created to help clubs find partners for their projects. More than 35 projects are currently posted and seeking support. Here are a few examples:

  • The Rotary Club of Bali Lovina, Indonesia, is raising funds to rebuild a kindergarten school in a permanent location.
  • Two South African clubs, the Rotary Club of Johannesburg New Dawn and the Rotary Club of Morningside, are jointly hosting the annual ultra-cycle tour in April 2014. The nine day tour aims to spread awareness about Rotary’s humanitarian work while raising funds to build multipurpose sports fields at various schools around South Africa.

With heartfelt gratitude for all your contributions towards improving communities near and far, happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and successful new year.

Vocational training team uses collaborative approach for medical training

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

ImageA group of six obstetricians from England traveled to Sikkim, India, in April as part of the Collaborative Action in Lowering Maternity Encountered Deaths vocational training team. Known as CALMED, the joint initiative between Districts1120 (England) and 3240 (parts of northeast India) brought together professionals and community members to train medical staff in emergency care for pregnant women and newborns. The team developed curriculums and resources and used simulators to train local medical professionals involved with childbirth. Afterward, the newly trained medical staff trained rural medical workers — all part of the effort to reduce the risk of complications and death during pregnancy, birth, and the postnatal period. Watch a video of the exchange and read more.

Lifecycle of a Service Project (Part 3): Acquiring Resources

By Ellina Kushnir, RI Programs staff

serviceproject_webinargraphic_EN-03Rotary International is pleased to present this five-part webinar series to support the Rotary family in producing sustainable service projects.

The series will highlight different strategies, best practices, and Rotary resources available to help clubs and districts undertake successful, sustainable service initiatives, using real-life examples from Rotarians.

In this webinar (part 3 in the series):

  • Learn about resources to help you find partners to collaborate with other clubs or organizations and increase the impact of your project
  • Find out how to secure funding, volunteers, and needed resources for your service project
  • Understand the Rotary resources available to you to help make your service project a success

Space is limited to 500 attendees, so register today!  Please note these times are in US Central (Chicago) time.  To see what time this will be in your area, please use the time zone converter.

Click on the blue hyperlinks below to register:

English 1: Tuesday, 28 January 2014, 10:00 – 11:00
English 2: Tuesday, 28 January 2014, 18:00 – 19:00
Japanese: Thursday, 13 February 2014, 18:00 – 19:00
French: Thursday, 13 February 2014, 09:00 – 10:00
Portuguese:Thursday, 13 February 2014, 12:00 – 13:00
Spanish: Wednesday, 12 February 2014, 10:00 – 11:00

Did you miss the first two webinars in this series? Select the webinar of your choice below to listen to a recording:

Support international development at an upcoming project fair

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Programs staff

Is your club ready to make a global impact? Attend a project fair to gain a better understanding of local communities’ most pressing needs, to establish international service partnerships, and to build lasting relationships around the world.

The 21st Central America Project Fair will be held 30 January-1 February in Antigua, Guatemala. Rotarians are invited to share friendship and fellowship while exploring opportunities to support local projects. Read the brochure and register online.